Government is the way that a society organizes and allocates authority in order to accomplish collective goals and provide benefits that the community as a whole needs. Governments differ around the world, but all seek to secure the nation’s borders and economy, promote education, and protect citizens’ health and safety. Some governments are very large, while others are very small and localized. The types of services provided by a country’s government also vary. At the highest level, government sets the laws for the entire nation and carries out those laws through agencies such as the military, police departments, and fire and postal service. At the state and city level, government provides local legislatures, budgeting, and municipal services such as water, sewer, parks, and schools. Municipalities may establish their own laws through ordinances, as long as they comply with state mandates and are approved by the local legislative body. Local law enforcement is primarily handled by municipal courts, which hear cases of low-level violations such as traffic tickets and disorderly conduct. Cases that involve higher levels of criminal activity are escalated to higher-level districts, circuit, and Supreme Courts.
The word “government” is derived from the Greek verb, “to rule” or “to govern.” People first developed governments because they realized that protection was easier if they stayed together in groups and agreed to let one person (or group) in the group have more power than the rest. Governments have evolved over the centuries as they learned how to protect their people and create rules that allow for order and stability. Today, there are three basic types of government: democracies, authoritarian regimes, and a variety of hybrid systems that combine elements from both of these models.
One of the most important parts of any government is its system of checks and balances. The Framers of the United States Constitution set up rules that allowed each branch of the government to check what the other branches were doing. This prevents any branch from becoming too powerful and keeps political ambition in check.
Another crucial part of any government is its ability to produce goods that the market cannot supply, and services that are too expensive for private businesses to provide. These include national security, and education, which are both essential to the well-being of all citizens. Governments must have the resources to provide these goods and services, which is why they levy taxes and tariffs to collect funding. They also borrow when necessary, if they are unable to raise enough money through taxes and tariffs. Governments can also provide special funding for things that they think will benefit the public, such as scientific research and environmental projects. They can also subsidize the cost of products that they feel will benefit the public, such as medical care and pharmaceuticals. These subsidies are known as government-sponsored enterprises or social programs. They are controversial, as many Americans believe that they discourage individuals from taking responsibility for their own welfare and instead depend on the government to take care of them.